Sunday, September 28, 2008

Evil Preacher Orchestra, Levontin 7, 24/09/08

Some friends and I were in the mood to see a gig at Levontin 7 this week, so I picked this band out of their concert calendar purely on the basis of their name. I operated under the assumption that bands with "Orchestra" in their name generally don't suck, because large bands (eight members according to the concert listing) packing the stage with themselves and a variety of instruments make for an interesting sight and a healthy blast of sound, which at the very worst can be nice for the spectacle.

Better yet, the music turned out to be fantastic, a mixture of free jazz freakouts and semi-improvised funk rock that took me back to Great Moments in Spiritualized History when they recorded songs like "Home of the Brave" and "Amazing Grace", except that Spiritualized have never been able to funk properly (or at all) (maybe at the end of "Cop Shoot Cop"). A lot of people became bored and frustrated with this noise and left early. Screw 'em -- this was proper trance music.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Some techno notes

Carl Craig & Moritz Von Oswald, "Recomposed Vol. 3" ... The concept is absolutely mouth-watering -- two techno legends compose an hour-long suite built around snippets from Ravel's "Bolero" and Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition" (most notably the "Samuel Goldenberg und Schmuyle" section)) -- but the end result is more in the spirit of TV Victor's "Timeless Deceleration", in which the hour-long concept overwhelms the record and exhausts one's patience for many of the lush moods that are offered by the music. Rather than morphing (or better yet, ending) certain thematic elements when they've said everything that needed to be said, stretching everything out to super-epic lengths remains the ultimate, overarching goal that hovers over every minute of the record. Von Oswald also mastered that TV Victor record, and "Recomposed Vol. 3" is painted with a similar sonic brush (Cafe del Mar strained through dub techno, hazy effects and dubby fog, etc.) Villalobos' "Fizheuer Zieheuer" was similarly flawed, and in both cases I can see how it all makes sense as a method for creating semi-improvised trance music (in the more hypnotic, meditative sense of the word, not the hands in the air and wait for the breakdown sense), but it's a concept that can work when you're sleeping in the corner of the club at 6 AM, and that doesn't always translate well into conventional recordings.

Having said that, if you're looking to form a Detroit techno/classical music hybrid, then Carl Craig is definitely the guy you want at the helm. The gentle build of the first fifteen minutes of the piece isn't topped by the forty-five minutes that follow. The classical samples weave in and out of the mix like gentle birdsong, and of course the frittering hi-hat rhythms are pure Detroit and appropriately dramatic.

Of course I will not get to see M83 on tour this year, but Pitchfork provided some handy links to the band's appearance at/on Juan's Basement. Live, M83 have evolved from the shambolic mess of the "Run Into Flowers"-era into a tight and powerful unit that seems to finally understand how to properly translate the band's sound from the studio to the stage. That's right -- MORE SYNTH. Synth-hell overload, all the time, yes yes yes!! M83 just keep getting better and better. And a word about the interview ... I know that it's pretty much a required question when you're dealing with an album like "Saturdays = Youth", but the fanatically authentic style that is recreated on "Kim and Jessie" could never be anything but a labour of love. 80's irony is simply not part of the equation on this album.

Random play works as a bias-removal tool: I had tracks from both T. Raumschmiere's "I Tank U" and David Guetta's "Pop Life" on my iPod, and consistently confused them for each other upon casual listening. It's a good time to be making electronic music if you want to be hailed for your rock star crossover tendencies (witness Justice) and T. Raumschmiere's been straddling that line a lot longer than most. "Brenner", a major highlight of "I Tank U", actually owes quite a lot to Green Velvet (who is a true granddaddy of this style, which in turn owes a lot to Prince's brand of bump-and-grind funk rock), at least until the brief schaffel interlude and subsequent German rap turn up to kick the track into a different dimension. Although for my money, David Guetta makes for a better (and far more underappreciated) rock star.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Low, Sansanna @ Barby

You've got to hand it to the promoters for putting forth the effort in finding the perfect opening band for Low, that is, they found a local group that sounds exactly like them. Sansanna bring out the best in the silence between the notes, just like the headliners, and maximize the sound for their effort in part by reverbing the drums more than I ever thought that drums could be reverbed.

But Low are beyond spectacular tonight, easily blowing away the previous two shows I saw by them. It's been a long time since that most recent show -- in 2002, on the "Trust" tour, and a lot has happened to the band both professionally (two more albums, a box set), and personally (Alan Sparhawk's health). "The Great Destroyer", released in 2005, rejuvenated Low's career by jolting them out of the sweet n soft habits that had threatened to become stale over their previous albums. Although "The Great Destroyer" is sadly underrepresented tonight, its pomp and aggressiveness are all over tonight's set. There are still plenty of moments when one can hear a pin drop (and the all too common crunch of someone stepping on a discarded paper cup), but also transcendent moments of improvised noise such as the searing conclusion to "Untitled" from "Things We Lost in the Fire". The kick in the teeth that was initiated by "The Great Destroyer" has subtlely transformed the band into more spellbinding, arresting performers. Sparhawk sings with more passion and energy than I've ever heard from him, and Mimi Parker has never been in finer voice.

Remarkably, this turns out to be one of the longest gigs that Low have ever played. Beginning with a flurry of short songs (mainly from "Drums and Guns"), the shift to wigging out starts with a furious take on "John Prine", continues through two encores and two hours of Low from start to finish.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

We don't take kindly to Michael Jackson's brand of rock and roll music around here

It's like "No Repetitive Beats: 15 Years Later". Except much funnier! I'm talking about this story: Haredim move to eradicate "foreign" pop.

Even though I'm going to make fun of these people, a ban like this is a serious concern thanks to the nearly unbreakable loyalty that Haredim show toward their spiritual leaders. The influence these rabbis have on their followers is on the scale of the Christian Coaltion or dare I say it, Oprah's Book Club. The article does a good job of highlighting the possibly severe economic consequences of such a ban. But I'm not hear to insult anyone's beliefs, I'm here to laugh at their perceptions about music!

  • "'Michael Jackson-style music has no place in our community,' says Mordechai Bloi, a senior member of the Guardians of Sanctity and Education". Even though it's not 1987, we'll ignore that Michael Jackson would be the first name that would come to someone's mind when they choose to address the scourge of contemporary music. But I'm really wondering if this is the first time that Michael Jackson has been called out as Public Enemy #1 when it comes to corrupting the youth. At least the conservatives of the 80's had the sense to galvanize their opinions against devil-worshipping long-haired onstage animal-eating heavy metallers as the object of their derision. Is Michael Jackson really that scary a person. Uh ... wait, don't answer that.

  • "'We might be able to adopt Bach or Beethoven, music with class, but not goyishe African music and beats.'" Ah yes, Beethoven -- such a fine Jew he was. And Bach? Was his full name Bachstein, or was he simply a religious man with enough kids to form his own baseball league? Either way, he's approved!

  • "Menahem Toker, a popular haredi DJ who was reportedly fired from Radio Kol Chai under pressure from haredi activists because he promoted "treif" shows ..." I love the idea of a "treif show" ... it's such a great little phrase. See also: "kosher alternative". Maybe Jewish mothers can take notes and use these less threatening terms when dealing with their partly assimilated sons -- "we wish you wouldn't spend so much time with that shiksa treif female friend and would consider a more kosher alternative."

  • "'What are they going to do listen to every single disc that is released? What about the thousands of discs that are already in the market?' Luft admitted that listening to all the discs on the market would be a formidable challenge." [emphasis mine] I'll say! I can't even understand the words on Wold's "Stratification", but although I am therefore uncertain if they are promoting a kosher message or not, they are from Saskatchewan, which makes them most definitely treif.

Friday, September 05, 2008

No More "Paper Thin Walls"?

I've long since fallen behind on keeping up with the ebb and flow of music blogs -- for proof of this, notice how seldom I update my links bar these days. I only check a few sites semiregularly and receive RSS feeds from some megasites (PFM, Idolator), but otherwise my internet habits are fairly disorganized, music-wise. One of my regular stops, almost since its inception, was Paper Thin Walls. The site is closing shop and the news hit me like a ton of bricks. PTW introduced me to a truckload of fantastic new music over the past couple of years, so much so that it's no exaggeration to say that it was my single biggest resource on the internet in that respect. With sites like Pitchfork posting links to seemingly dozens of mp3s and videos daily (not to mention the weekly updates of documentary-length content on the section of their site), I can understand that people might have found PTW to be a bit lacking in material. I felt that they made up for it and then some by maintaining an incredibly high level of quality control not only with the music they hosted, but also with the writing that accompanied it. Articulate, bite-sized reviews of single tracks are a lot more likely to sell me on a band than an essay-length semi-philosophical screed will, not least because the single song mp3 is simpler to digest than an extended play album, no matter whether I'm at work, home, or iPod.

Right now I'm listening to PTW's "Drifts and Drones" mixtape, compiled in April 2007, which remained glued to my regularly used media players for most of the spring and early summer of that year, especially the tracks by Eluvium and Horseback which I heard there for the first time. Follow the links from here to get everything on the tape, after all, what better way to pay tribute to a great website than by listening to the music that made it so special.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Mogwai, "The Hawk Is Howling": a bit puzzling

Recently, a few Youtube clips from recent Mogwai shows renewed my buzz for their upcoming album. They'd retained their nasty RAWK edge from "Mr. Beast", but were indulging their prog tendencies by going more epic with a style that is part Sabbath, part Steve Hillage. I envisioned an album where "Glasgow Mega-Snake" was stretched and toyed with, where the three minute explosion on the record served as the conclusion to four or five minutes of buildup that led up to it. A record filled with "Ex-Cowboy"s, if you will -- "Come On Die Young: The Revenge", an album for people who thought that the first forty minutes of that album were boring and didn't pick up until the "Ex-Cowboy"/"Xmas Steps" portion (there were plenty of those people around in 1999). I'm not craving another "CODY" ("Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait" already filled that role quite nicely, IMO) but Mogwai are long overdue for a few killer epic tracks. When it comes to the correlations between track length and quality in Mogwai's songs, their output has pretty much inverted itself over the past ten years. In the early days they were all about the eye-opening epic ("Mogwai Fear Satan", "Helicon 1", "Superheroes of BMX", "Stereodee", "Like Herod") but it's been years since they've delivered a truly memorable one. For example, "Ratts of the Capital" was one of the weaker tracks on "Happy Songs ...", and "Mr. Beast" didn't really have an epic track, save for maybe "We're No Here", which is again not even close to being the best track on that album.

"The Hawk Is Howling" does a lot of things halfway. It fills a halfway grey area between loud and soft, between epic and succinct, between melodic and freeform. None of long tracks are really that long, and none of them carry that "Mogwai Fear Satan"-esque emphasis that says "get comfortable because this is the big one". There are a lot of tracks in the six-to-eight minute range, and it's almost as if they kept hedging their bets them and weren't sure whether to let one of them really break out to prodigious lengths and dominate the album. Despite my initial hopes/impressions from the live shows, none of them follow the quiet/loud/quiet/loud ride that "Ex-Cowboy" does. The typical pattern is to build slowly and meticulously over the opening few minutes, eventually reach a plateau, and more or less maintain that plateau over the song's second half. Sometimes the journey is magnificent. "The Precipice" twists seemingly endless, Wagnerian melodies into fascinatingly detailed shapes. But large swaths of the album are devoted to wandering through anodyne, "CODY"-ish semi-ambiance without much in the form of an appropriate payoff.

So I'm not sure about this one yet, but Mogwai have always had a habit of not making things simple, haven't they?